In their brochure "Supply chain engagement for tour operators"*, the Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development (TOI) shows opportunities for tour operators to act responsibly along the whole service chain. We wanted to know from Andreas Müseler how such a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility may look in practice. Andreas Müseler is head of the Environment and Sustainability Department at Rewe Touristik (Cologne, Germany), and the new chair of the Tour Operators' Initiative. TOI brings together more than 20 international tour operators committed to sustainable tourism development.
TW: For a couple of years, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been frequently discussed. Where does CSR become visible at Rewe Touristik? Andreas Müseler: The tourism wing of the Rewe Group has been active in this field since the 1990s. While at the beginning we focussed mainly on environmental issues, soon more and more social aspects came into the picture. Today we talk of CSR. Large corporations in particular are increasingly held accountable and are expected to assume responsibility in a comprehensive manner. Even though tourism happens globally, it has to be implemented locally. As tour operators, we are in a special position. We are the link between the service providers in the destinations and our guests. In this role, we have to take responsibility. This means for us that on the one hand, we are in a permanent dialogue with our business partners in the destinations regarding possible improvements of environmental and social aspects. We support them in implementing such improvements. This happens through personal contact as well as specific programmes. On the other hand, our customers rightfully expect transparency. They expect us to be ready to take a position even on critical questions. We offer our customers a variety of information, in the form of thematic brochures and in our websites and catalogues. We also give them the possibility to contact us in different ways, e.g. using a particular e-mail address which can be found in each of our catalogues. Another example is the active implementation of the "Code of Conduct" to fight the sexual exploitation of children. This includes workshops for partners, staff, and destination representatives in the respective countries, as well as internal training programmes and information for our guests. TW: What possibilities do you have as a tour operator to influence your business partners in the South with regard to environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices? What kind of support do you offer them? Andreas Müseler: As an example I would like to mention our ongoing activity "The environmentally friendly hotel".** It is a brochure, currently in its fourth edition, which provides assistance to hotel managers with regard to sustainable hotel operations. We regularly send this information in different languages to our partner hotels, along with the offer to provide further information and contacts if needed. On the basis of this brochure, an active dialogue on environmental and social issues has ensued with our hoteliers. In this way, we do not only provide support, but also set a signal highlighting the importance of environmental protection and social responsibility for Rewe Touristik. TW: To what extent can you involve your business partners in the planning and decision making processes for more sustainability in tourism? Andreas Müseler: One problem tour operators are facing is that under normal circumstances a tour operator enters the stage when the planning has already happened, that means, when tourism development is already in full swing. At this stage, sustainability has often lost out already. Our business partners are often not the decision makers who kick-start tourism development. It would be desirable to enter into an exchange of ideas with the decision makers at an early stage. However, this is not easy, even for large tourism enterprises. For this reason we founded the "Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development" ten years ago, together with tour operators from different parts of the world. In a global business association and under the patronage of the World Tourism Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the UNESCO, we seek contact with local and national decision makers in charge of tourism development. In various ways we are thus able to express that sustainable development is the only way in which we see the enormous opportunities of tourism as an economic activity for many regions ensured on the long run. Experience has shown that for the purposes of sustainability this is the right approach.
* Supply chain engagement for tour operators. Three Steps Toward Sustainability. Tour Operators' Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development (ed.), 2004. Download: www.toinitiative.org/fileadmin/docs/publications/SupplyChainEngagement.pdf
** "The environmentally friendly hotel". Rewe Touristik (ed.). For a pdf copy, contact email@example.com
(December 2009, TW 57)